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10 Moments that Defined Illinois Football: “Divorce is Good Sometimes”

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Several of Lovie Smith’s own recruits left the team mid-season, provoking an odd reaction from the head coach

NCAA Football: Illinois at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Transfers have been an all too common occurrence at Illinois in the past few seasons. But until recently, most of the departing players had been recruits of long-replaced coaching staffs. That’s what made the departures of Lou Dorsey, Reuben Unije and Cam Thomas so unusual. What was even more unusual was Lovie’s response to a question about his thoughts on the transfers.

Smith only needed to decline to comment on the transfers or wish the departing players luck on their future endeavors. Instead, he insinuated that these players did not sufficiently want to be in Champaign and added that “divorce is good sometimes.”

In theory, he’s not wrong. Sometimes a player doesn’t fit a coach’s schemes or isn’t a good locker room presence, and the team actually can improve in their absence.

But it’s hard to make that case for Lou Dorsey, who was one of the few signs of life in the otherwise stagnant 2017 Illini offense. Even with Garrick McGee’s departure, Rod Smith could have moved him to wide receiver like he did Caleb Reams, and use his much-needed possession skills on the perimeter. But Dorsey saw little playing time, even when he wasn’t suspended.

The departures of sophomore quarterback Cam Thomas and freshman OL Reuben Unije were less surprising. Thomas had lost the starting quarterback position to AJ Bush and had been passed up by true freshman MJ Rivers. Unije seemed destined for a redshirt and did not have a realistic opportunity at significant playing time until 2020 or 2021.

Losing Bennett Williams was the toughest of them all. The 2017 Freshman All-American would have made a world of difference on this young secondary, and could have prevented many of the embarrassing coverage breakdowns that we were forced to endure. But at the end of the day, he broke team rules, took full responsibility for his actions, and suffered the consequences.

It was disheartening to hear Illinois’ head coach take jabs at outgoing student-athletes who either decided it was in their best interests to leave, or made mistakes and owned up to them. I do commend Lovie for applying his team rules to everyone without exceptions, even his best players, but his comments about outgoing players were unfortunate.

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